Biblical Echoes and Allusions: Proverbs as Intertextual Pathways in Patrick Chakaipa's Pfumo Reropa.

Author:Mapara, Jacob
Position:Zimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Critical essay


This paper's major contribution is that while Chakaipa's novels have been read as heavily influenced by the bible (Kahari, 1972, 1997; Mapara, 2003) the issue is that the way some of these biblical elements have been brought into the narrative have not been analyzed. This paper contends that this has been done through the use of proverbs among other narrative devices. The focus of this paper is thus on proverbs and how the author has deployed them as pathways of bringing in what this author refers to as 'turning the novel into a pulpit.' Informed by intertextuality, popularized by Kristeva, it is observed that Chakaipa's Pfumo Reropa (Spear of Blood) hinges on biblical texts through its use of echoes and allusions.

It notes that echoes and allusions reinforce the didacticism and moralizations that are major aspects of the Shona novel (Kahari, 1986). As other texts, Pfumo Reropa is part of intertextual intersections that reflect other literatures, both written and oral. The paper therefore calls upon all serious scholars of Shona literature to rethink the manner they have been analyzing the Shona novel and other literary genres. It also calls upon readers, scholars and students of Shona literature to make efforts to understand authors and their backgrounds so as to have a deeper understanding of their texts through reading widely since echoes and allusions can best be detected by those who study extensively other literatures and cultural books as well as theories of literature.

This paper is also not about the effect that proverbs have as aesthetic literary devices, neither is it about the general effect that proverbs have in a narrative as discussed by Pongweni (1989). It notes that while proverbs themselves are intertextual insertions in the texts they are found, because they are oral by nature, they go further than that in literary texts. The paper delves into how proverbs play a relay effect serving as pathways or signposts in Pfumo Reropa through introducing intertextual echoes and allusions into the narrative. As pathways, the proverbs function as entry points or platforms on which among others, the author introduces biblical echoes and allusions.

Intertextual Echoes and Allusions

The term intertextuality was first introduced by Kristeva (1986). It points out that a particular text depends on prior sources and persuasions that help to shape that manuscript. For example, studying Spenser's Faerie Queene might trace its sources right back to Homer's the Iliad (Linde, 2009: 2). This genealogical scrutiny perceives a text as having various forms of conversational relations with earlier texts through various means such as response, continuation, homage, critique, parody, pastiche, etc. Lately the focal point has shifted to even tracing concatenation of influence between specific texts to a concern about the intertextual nature of any manuscript, whether or not it overtly responds to any prior document (Linde, 2009: 2-3). What debatably, the argument finally boils down to is that no literary text is original but is portmanteaux of various texts that are in constant dialogue with one another. This view of intertextuality therefore argues that no author can ever be wholly original. In these arguments on and about intertextuality what scholars largely focus on are echoes and allusions that they ride on as means of getting back to prior texts, and even in some instances, to texts that came later as is the case for example of Mabasa's Mapenzi (1999) and Ndafa Here?, (2008) that are chained by among others aspects the words "Handisi imba yakasara kumatongo ini" (I am not an abandoned house left in a formerly inhabited area). What is however important to note is that although echoes and allusions are related, they are different.

An intertextual echo may be either a cognizant or unconscious act and is faint enough that often it is impossible to determine whether its manifestation in a text was willfully or unconsciously inserted by the author. Like in an allusion, it is a result of the influence of a text that the author may have read at one time in the past. It may derive from one specific text, event, tradition, person, or thing. If the echo is a textual or literary echo, it stems from a text that the author has read (or heard) at some point in the past (Beetham, 2008: 20-24). Commenting on the same issue of intertextual echoes with a focus on biblical studies, Hays states that echoes may not be as loud as expected and may require wider knowledge on languages and texts, especially languages and texts of the ancient Near East in the case of biblical and classical studies. There are however cases like in the New Testament study when a scholar may identify louder echoes that may be a verbatim replication of verbal skill, style and syntactical outlines from the Greek versions of the Jewish Scriptures yet one focusing on the Old Testament faces the problem of linguistic fissures that exist between cultures (Hays, 2008: 37). Despite these challenges, one notes that echoes can even be realized by a word or two as noted by Porat who notes that T.S. Eliot alludes (which is really an echo) to John Donne by using only two words (qtd. in Hays, 1998: 35). It is clear that whether one is referring to biblical studies or literary ones, echoes take the reader back to earlier texts but they are not as loud as allusions that are discussed below.

Allusions to earlier works were in fact at one time seen as a mark of creative ingenuity as is the case of the Aenid by Virgil which is an allusion of Homer's the Odyssey and the Iliad. Some biblical texts also allude to other Ancient Near Eastern documents such as the Flood Story (Genesis 6:9-9:17) and the Gilgamesh Epic (Sanders, 1964). Israelite prophets also subverted and transformed messages of the Ancient Near East in their prophecies (Hays, 2008: 21). It is consequently apparent that an allusion comprises of one or additional words from an earlier literary or other manuscript whose appearance in a book evokes the reader's remembrance of another text or texts. Each distinctive reference is to an individual source. In an allusion one can undoubtedly witness resemblances connecting the source text and the new manuscript (if s/he has prior knowledge of the other text). The author of the new text may not hide the fact that s/he is relying on a prior one, although s/he may not openly acknowledge that.

Allusions come in different ways such as in plot, characterization and even format. In an allusion the author deliberately makes an effort to bring in elements of a prior text or texts with the intention of linking his/her content to the preceding one. The reason largely has to do with efforts to make his work more appealing and ensure that issues raised are better understood when the two texts are juxtaposed. A good example of this is realized in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Nicol (2000) states that this play is heavily dependent on texts like Marlowe's Jew of Malta (p. 20). The dependence on prior texts may be because the author may use allusions to increase his text's worth in the eyes of the reader (Beetham, 2008: 17-20) or to ride on the success of a previous...

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